AUSTRAC launches investigations into SkyCity, Crown and NAB

By Noah Taylor Updated
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Australia’s financial watchdog AUSTRAC has launched a series of money laundering investigations into two Australian casino operators and one of the big four banks.

Business News Australia reports that three high-profile formal investigations into ASX-listed companies SkyCity Entertainment, Crown Resorts and NAB have been launched, over their compliance with anti-money laundering regulations, with two real money casinos and one of the nation’s leading banks in its sights.

NAB, Crown Perth and SKyCity Adelaide all made announcements that AUSTRAC was formally investigating their operations, although no link has been established between the three cases.

All three companies have received notices that AUSTRAC’s regulatory operations branch identified “potential serious non-compliance” with regulations.

The move comes nine months after Westpac was ordered to pay Australia’s largest ever civil penalty of $1.3 billion, following AUSTRAC investigations that led the bank to admit to 23 million breaches of anti-money laundering and counter terrorism financing.

The regulator’s scrutiny will be deja vu for Crown Resorts, whose Melbourne casino received a formal investigation in October 2020 and is currently in the midst of a royal commission in Melbourne and Perth.

Crown Resorts explained it would fully cooperate with AUSTRAC in the process and provided historical context in an ASX update.

“The Crown Board has recently received legal advice that a practice that existed at Crown Melbourne between 2012 and 2016 contravened section 68 of the Casino Control Act,” the group said.

“This practice involved Crown receiving payment from debit or credit cards of international guests at Crown Melbourne’s Crown Towers Hotel, with the funds then available to the patron for gaming at the casino,” Crown said, noting $160 million had been transacted through the hotel card process over the four-year period.

“Section 68 of the Casino Control Act prohibits a casino operator from, in connection with any gaming or betting in the casino, providing money or chips as a part of a transaction involving a credit or debit card.”

SkyCity investigation originates in September 2019

The matters relating to SkyCity Entertainment Group’s Adelaide casino arose following an AUSTRAC assessment that began in September 2019 and focused on its management of customers identified as high risk and potentially exposed in the financial years of FY16 and FY18.

“AUSTRAC has made clear that it has not made a decision regarding the appropriate regulatory responses that it may apply to SkyCity Adelaide, including whether or not enforcement action will be taken,” SkyCity said.

“AUSTRAC has indicated that it will request information from SkyCity as part of its investigation. SkyCity will fully cooperate with AUSTRAC in relation to those inquiries and with the investigation of SkyCity Adelaide.”

“SkyCity takes its anti-money laundering responsibilities and obligations very seriously. SkyCity has processes and practices in place in its business to detect and prevent money laundering and continually reviews these to ensure it meets all anti-money laundering requirements.”

NAB CEO commits to improving financial crime obligations

The potential non-compliance identified at NAB relates to customer identification procedures, ongoing customer due diligence and compliance.

“NAB takes its financial crime obligations seriously. We are very aware that we need to further improve our performance in relation to these matters. We have been working to improve and clearly have more to do,” NAB chief executive officer Ross McEwan said.

Since June 2017, NAB has invested about $800 million as part of a multi-year program to uplift its financial crime and fraud controls and has more than 1200 people dedicated to managing financial crime risks.

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